Ross Atkins repeatedly identified the middle infield depth as a priority this offseason. Now that spring training has arrived, Troy Tulowitzki has already reminded us why.
For as many needs as the Blue Jays seemed to have entered the offseason with, there was one clear priority for Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro: add to the middle infield depth. For someone who doesn’t follow the Blue Jays that closely it may have been confusing, considering that the team employs Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis at the keystone positions, two players capable of being plus contributors. The problem is of course, that as Blue Jays’ fans we know better.
It’s not that either player is lacking talent, that’s not the case at all. It’s been the injury bug that’s zapped their collective values, which we saw in great detail last season when they combined to play in just 116 games, and you could argue that Tulowitzki wasn’t healthy enough to play in several of those either. For as beloved as Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney were in their efforts to start on a regular basis, the Blue Jays needed an upgrade and they went out and brought in a couple of them in Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz.
Sure enough, as spring training got underway earlier this week, with it came the announcement that Tulowitzki is dealing with yet another injury issue after having a bone spur in his heel removed over the winter. In discussions with reporters, manager John Gibbons mentioned that it shouldn’t be a major issue this spring and won’t delay him too terribly long, but you’ll have to forgive Blue Jays’ fans if we’re collecting rolling our eyes at the news.
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The plus side is that the roster are far better prepared for such a scenario in 2018, as both Solarte and Diaz are capable of playing either second base or shortstop and should provide a greater offensive contribution than Goins or Barney were capable of last year.
Solarte in particular posted solid numbers with the San Diego Padres last season, slashing .255/.314/.416 with 18 home runs and 64 RBI, while playing all over the infield. Chances are good that he’ll be first up to start on a regular basis if Tulowitzki or Travis can’t go, and one could argue that he’s talented enough to be starting regularly on several teams, possibly including in Toronto.
Diaz comes with a little more uncertainty, but also brings a great deal of upside and more experience at shortstop than what’s on Solarte’s resume. The 27 year old had a difficult season in 2017, but he was an All-Star the year before while slashing .300/.369/.510 with 17 home runs, 65 RBI, and earning 3.5 WAR in his rookie campaign. He bounced between AAA and the big leagues last year due to some struggles, and the emergence of Paul DeJong in St. Louis, but there is still plenty of reason to like his upside, especially as a depth piece.
In the event that both Tulowitzki and Travis land on the DL at the same time, the Blue Jays have two middle infielders with significant starting experience to handle the job, and fortunately that’s not all. Add in names like Richard Urena, Gift Ngoepe, and possibly others like Lourdes Gurriel, and the depth is there to cover John Gibbons’ lineup in a far stronger way than it was last year.
Hopefully this is a minor delay for Tulowitzki’s 2018 season, but either way the club should be far better prepared this year and thankfully the front office made that a focus this winter. Unfortunately, we’re already seeing why it had to be a priority.